Why I’ve found myself obsessed by soil

We are getting sicker, and our planet is getting sicker. This is a double crisis for mankind but it is not a coincidence. The above should read: We are getting sicker because our planet is getting sicker.

The need-to-know

  • Nutrient-rich soil provides vital health benefits through the crops it nurtures
  • Depleted soil produces crops that are far less nutritious for us, even if we’re eating the recommended 5-7 servings a day. Malnutrition and obesity can go hand-in-hand
  • Soil that has been polluted through industrial farming, GMO and petrochemical pesticides, has horrifying consequences for our health and the results are very much in full evidence

According to Zach Bush MD, an oncologist turned part-ecologist whose interview on the Goop podcast I cannot highly recommend enough (XXXXXXX), explains:

  • In the 60s, chronic disease accounted for 4% of US deaths. Today, 46% of US kids have a chronic disease diagnose (this can be anything from autism to ADHD to allergies, early puberty etc)
  • Chronic disease across multiple forms has risen sharply since the 90s, suggesting a single cause. It seems to hit our neurological functions first (we are trending towards 1 in 3 US kids having autism by 2035) and is moving through the body in the form of cancer, autoimmune diseases etc.
  • It’s also targeting our reproductive health – according to Bush, men’s sperm counts have halved in the last 22 years
  • Bush points out that the infamous Round Up pesticide, which is glyphosate in a toxic cocktail of other chemicals, started to be used industrially by farmers from the early 90s onwards – a water-soluble toxin in a planet that’s 70% water
  • He says, “We’ve hired a chemical warfare company to grow our food chain, and should we expect anything but death to come out of that experience?”

Pesticides like Round Up, which is now off-patent and widely used globally, not only embeds in our food chain chemicals that cause our cells to isolate themselves and cease communicating with each other, but it destroys the microbiome of the soil, a microbiome on which our own cells are dependent for their healthy internal ecosystem of mitochondria.

Did you know that many of the most effective chemotherapy drugs are made from fungi found in the soil’s microbiome, the very fungi that these pesticides are killing? The soil’s natural ecosystem has vastly life-giving qualities.

The same crops that are genetically modified to be Round Up resistant are used to feed livestock in the shape of corn and soy in particular. We are what we eat, eats.

So the soil our veggies are grown in is nutritionally nose-diving and full of nasties. What else?

  • The other reason we should care about what industrial farming and the so-called Green Revolution in the 50s and 60s (the industrialisation of farming to increase yields) have done to our soil is that healthy soil is a critical body for sequestering carbon dioxide
  • The non-profit Rodale Institute’s white paper on the ability of regenerated soil to reverse the effects of climate change states: “We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture”

What can we do?

We can

  • Choose to shift from consumer to citizen – I’ve heard this rallying cry in quite a few places recently and it really resonates
  • vote with our wallets
  • pay our farmer before we pay our doctor.
  1. Eat organic where we can afford to, especially when buying the Dirty Dozen most pesticide-ridden fruit & veg. Please note that 2 of the most high profile superfoods, spinach and kale, are on this list!
  2. Take it a step further. In the UK, farms that are members of The Soil Association are held to the highest standards in Europe when it comes to agriculture, livestock and livestock feed processing
  3. Eat biodynamic where possible. These farmers are actively invested in regenerating their land. Check out The Soil Association’s website
  4. Consider a veg box subscription. I am a huge fan of Guy Singh-Watson’s Riverford brand and get their veg boxes every week. We now buy lots of add-ons with our standard No Potatoes veg box
  5. Eat seasonally. The food will be fresher, with fewer airmiles and more nutrients preserved. As my doctor pointed out, if you eat seasonally all year round, then you’ll have the perfect rotation of plant-based food over the course of a year
  6. Opt for organic animal products
  7. Eat grass-fed beef & lamb. This is a far superior form of saturated fat to grain-fed meat and has many health benefits. It also has a much lower carbon footprint than industrially-bred meat. We buy a lot less meat these days but we buy the best we can afford. I love Daylesford, Riverford and Provenance
  8. Get interested. I love Riverford’s weekly newsletter (in boxes and on their Instagram), and by reading it I definitely appreciate a lot more the effort that goes into my beautiful food
  9. Support The Soil Association by becoming a member
  10. Ask questions of your suppliers

I have over-simplified a hugely complex and fascinating field. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out these resources created by people who are devoting their lives to sharing their knowledge:


The Dirt Cure – Dr Maya Shetreat

A paediatric neurologist and a functional doctor, Dr Shetreat’s book is an incredible tool whether or not you are a parent. It links the problems in our food supply with the wide range of low-grade, chronic suffering that we have all normalised in our kids and in ourselves. It’s a wonderful, highly recommended read

Food: WTF Should I Eat – Dr Mark Hyman

Brilliant summary of the pros and cons of our food groups, and full of savvy ways to eat ourselves to health. It dispels lots of deeply-entrenched food myths. It’s particularly good if you’re US-based as it really draws attention to the gaping holes in regulation of the US food supply

Nourished Planet: Sustainability in the Global Food System – Danielle Nierenberg

This book pulls together all of the social and environmental moving parts needed for a truly sustainable food system – ie a system that nourishes this generation without depleting what the next generation will need


The Doctor’s Farmacy series – Dr Mark Hyman

All I can say is, (a) I love this guy and (b) it’s so interesting how many highly respected doctors who practice functional medicine have become so entrenched in ecology too. It feels like this is the way that medicine is going … back to focusing on plants as the key to healing us

The Goop Podcast

            How soil health is reflected in the gut – with Zach Bush MD – 4 April 2019

Is science the way to describe magic? ­– with Dr Maya Shetreat – 4 October 2018


The Soil Association

Farmer’s Footprint

The Land Institute

Riverford Organic

Daylesford Organic

Abel & Cole

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